The trip starts in Lima this afternoon. Group members who have booked flights from the UK will arrive at our hotel in the evening.
We drive south from Lima this morning until we reach the port of Paracas where we take a boat to the Ballestas islands, a national park that contains one of the highest concentrations of marine birds in the world. There are sea lions, numerous species of birds and the Paracas Candelabra, a curious pre-Inca design on the hillside, only recognisable from the sea. The boat trip lasts around 2 hours, and once we're back on dry land we drive on to Ica, in the heart of Peru's wine-growing region.
At the Huacachina oasis just outside Ica there are high sand dunes where we may have time to try 'sand-surfing' (optional). We arrive at Nazca in the afternoon with time to visit the viewing platforms close to the Nazca Lines. These are one of the world's great archaeological mysteries, consisting of enormous drawings and patterns etched in the desert sand.
We turn inland from the coastal desert today, climbing high into the Andes on today's long but spectacular drive. Vicuñas (a smaller wild relative of the llama) can be seen along this road, as this area is Peru's largest vicuña reserve. Flamingos are usually sighted at high Andean lakes near the road. This region has only recently become easily accessible to tourists due to an upgrade of the Abancay/Chalhuanca road. The altitude here can make physical exertion difficult, so it is recommended to rest in the evening after the 12-hour drive. We overnight a couple of hours beyond Abancay on the road to Cuzco.
We set off towards Cuzco this morning, stopping to visit the unique Inca Saywiti stone and Tarawasi ruins. The glaciated summits of the Vilcabamba Mountain range and the descent into the Apurimac River valley demonstrate the dramatic contrasts of the Andes Mountains, and we should expect stunning scenery throughout today's drive.
Today has been left free for exploring Cuzco, one of South America's most beautiful cities. In the centre there is the Plaza de Armas, and the Koricancha Sun Temple located in the Santo Domingo Church and monastery. Outside the town are more Inca ruins, notably the fortress of Sacsayhuaman where the Inca armies made their last stand against the Conquistadores. A combined entrance fee for these sites and many others is recommended and costs US$9-25, depending on the number of sites you wish to visit. A variety of sightseeing excursions, including a trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, as well as rafting trips are also available through your tour leader.
For most people the highlight of the trip is the visit by train to the greatest ruin in the world, the lost city of Machu Picchu. This is one of the architectural and engineering marvels of the ancient world, in a mountain setting of staggering immensity. The Spaniards never found it; the Incas left no records about it, so Machu Picchu remains a great enigma, a city lost for centuries in the jungle. We will take a guided tour of the ruins and afterwards have time for the many spectacular walks - the steep Inca path up Wayna Picchu, to the Inca Drawbridge or even up to the Sun Gate for that iconic view of the ruins.
A free morning to enjoy the hot springs and buzz of this little town in the jungle below the ruins - or for those who want to explore more of Machu Picchu, there is the option to return for sunrise; much the most peaceful time of day to appreciate the site. The return entry costs US$45, plus around US$15 for the return bus trip to the ruins from Aguas Calientes. In the afternoon we board the train back to Cuzco, arriving in the late evening.
A final chance to enjoy the sights and shopping of this beautiful city or take one of the numerous optional excursions available.
Today we travel for 8-10 hours along the Vilcanota River and onto the altiplano, the high plains separating the Andes from the jungle. Although it is quite a long drive, it is interesting and often spectacular. There are scheduled stops at interesting sites along the route to help break up the day and all along the route we get a feeling for the immensity of the Andean landscapes. This afternoon we arrive at the shores of Lake Titicaca and board a boat for our trip to Amantani Island. Hiking around the island offers great views across the lake, whilst the night spent with a local family offers fantastic cultural insight into lives very different to our own.
We explore the island in the morning before boarding our boat for the three-hour journey to Puno on the lakeshore. On the way, we visit the Uros Indians, who live on islands of floating reeds and, save for a few modest concessions to the modern world, still live as their ancestors would have done centuries ago.
Today we head off across the altiplano again. This time we cross to the south west, heading back towards the coast to the high Colca Canyon. En route we have opportunities to see vicuñas and possibly flamingos before descending into what is considered to be second deepest canyon in the Americas (the deepest, the Cotahuasi Canyon, is also in Peru). There is time in the evening for a visit to the hot springs near the main town of Chivay - a warming pleasure after the chill of Lake Titicaca.
An early start to view condors soaring on the morning drafts rising out of the canyon. Extensive terraces, stunning colonial churches, and burial tombs are viewed before we ascend out of the canyon on our way to Arequipa, known as the 'White City' due to the pale volcanic stone used to construct many of its colonial buildings. The picturesque city enjoys a year-round pleasant climate and is surrounded by 6000m volcanoes, including the near-perfect cone of El Misti.
In the morning we visit the huge and serene convent of Santa Catalina. Built in 1580 and only opened to the outside world in the 1970s, it offers a rare insight into the lives led by the nuns and has changed little through the centuries. There are still around 20 nuns living in the northern corner of the complex. In the afternoon we fly to Lima where will transfer to our hotel in Miraflores.
The trip ends after breakfast today, although there is time for optional tours of Lima including visits to the Gold Museum and tours of the historic downtown. Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport this afternoon.